Body cameras can be effective tools in capturing action during some of police’s worst encounters, but require careful research prior to being purchased to ensure they meet department goals, according to a new study by the University of Central Florida.
In an exclusive interview with the newspaper, Pamela McCauley Ph.D., director of the ergonomics laboratory at the university and lead researched on the study, said body cameras are a useful tool for both police and the public they serve. Having them does lead to altered behavior by officers and citizens, mostly for the positive. However, she stressed that departments need to select cameras after careful research, rather than be reactionary to controversial issues involving police.
“Have a trial period, actually have those cameras on, and in more than one configuration being worn by your officers,” McCauley said. “It’s good to look at the technology, it’s good to implement it, but it needs to be done in a scientific and thoughtful manner.”
The cameras can be worn in multiple ways, according to the study, and attached to hats, lapels and the torso. Each position offers different viewpoint advantages, some of which will better serve officers in truly documenting encounters. However, each wearable location also offers different potentials for the camera being knocked away, turned off or damaged depending on the situation.
Storing the mass amounts of footage collected daily is an additional concern, the study said, and will require departments to consider their record-keeping capabilities before implementation. However, studying camera usage does not have to be daunting — McCauley said most departments should be able to complete a thorough trial in 30-45 days, while also offering officer training.
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Englewood police purchased eight body cameras in August. The equipment plus the additional server space required to store the video costs $18,000. The cameras are assigned to each cruiser, and are worn by patrol officers daily. The “Digital Ally” set-up is the same company the department uses for cruiser cameras, and records into the same system, said Sgt. Mike Lang.
Cameras are triggered when officers turn their emergency lights on — one of the few systems that are sensor activated, as most cameras currently on the market require officers to manually begin recording, McCauley said. The equipment was purchased as part of an upgrade, Lang said, and have been a useful tool in two specific incidents where officers found themselves under attack.
“So often from a crime scene standpoint, we’re documenting things after they occur based on the physical evidence left behind,” Lang said. “The camera is really there along with us to capture things as they happen.”
Dayton police are researching whether to purchase body cameras. The department is seeking a $700,000 grant which would fund the equipment, storage and implementation of the devices for the next three years. Chief Richard Biehl said the cameras have documented benefits, such as capturing police misconduct or inappropriate use of force, and providing valuable video evidence in criminal cases. However, managing when the cameras should record, how those recordings are stored and who has access to it create its own set of problems.
“Records retention and access is a major issue for cameras,” Biehl said. “This is not new, the recording of police officers in certain events. What’s different is that the camera being mobile could potentially capture more events.”
In the wake of controversial police encounters both on a local and national level, the demand for body cameras is surging. The Clark County Sheriff’s Office purchased 14 cameras for jail supervisors and staff in December. The devices are by the same maker as the department’s cruiser cams — L-3 Mobile-Vision. Four months later, Sheriff Gene Kelly said he is still waiting for the cameras to be delivered.
And while the cameras can capture much of what officers see, McCauley conceded there are many other factors no amount of technology can capture.
“One of the things it doesn’t capture is the sense of urgency or fear a person may be feeling,” she said.
This is why departments will still require witness statements, police reports and other record-keeping to truly document an incident, McCauley added.